Pat Fitzgerald, Educator

Last week, Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald voiced very strong opposition to the formation of a players’ union in his program. He said, among other things, that he was an “educator,” not an “employer” and that this is not “what I signed up to be.”

No word yet on whether Fitzgerald would resign and walk away from his $2 million plus annual salary, if the players voted to unionize. It’s important to remember in all this that the question of whether the players are employees has already been settled. If they vote not to unionize, their status as employees – they are – will not change, unless Northwestern is successful in its appeal of the NLRB’s regional office ruling. Most commentators have regarded that outcome as unlikely.

In the meantime, I can’t help but note that if Pat Fitzgerald and major college coaches in general are educators, they are *highly* unusual ones.  I myself am an educator by profession, and there is very little that my job has in common with Pat’s. I also have lots of friends who are educators, both at the college level and in K-12. I can say confidently that the nature of Fitzgerald’s work would be unrecognizable to them as well.

For example:

1) that salary – it’s the equivalent of 10-40 years of pay for the range of educators I know personally. No one I know is in the ballpark, the parking lot or the highway on the way to that playing space.

2) Fitzgerald’s charges, according to the NLRB ruling, are required to secure his approval before they are allowed to seek outside employment. I have zero say over what my students do outside the confines of whatever course they are taking with me. Again, I speak confidently for all my other educator friends in this regard.

3) Northwestern football players are also required to provide detailed information about what kind of car they drive. This would be extraordinarily unusual in the typical teacher-student relationship, unless the teacher happened to be the parent of the student in question.

4) when the players, I mean students, maintain social media accounts, they are prohibited from denying a friend request from their coaches, so that they can have their activities on those sites monitored. See above, under “except for parents.”

5) NW football players are required, in their first two years, to live on campus. According to the NLRB ruling, “Only upperclassmen are permitted to live off campus and even then they are required to to submit their lease to Fitzgerald for his approval before they can enter into it.”

Again, I know of no student-teacher relationship in which such an arrangement would be conceivable.

I also know of no teacher who has control over a student’s scholarship. Academic scholarships are under the control of university administrators, or programs under their charge. In no case that I am aware is a teacher empowered to revoke a student’s scholarship.

Fitzgerald is, to be fair, also in a highly unusual position for an employer, because most employers do not exercise the extent of control over their workers in contemporary America that college coaches do. But that’s because the employment model in major collegiate athletics is an anachronistic one, more characteristic of the nature of work in the once commonplace company towns than it is of work in the 21st century.



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